“Hi, I’m from Lansing.”
If you’re from Michigan or live here now, that’s probably enough information for you to figure out that I hail from the middle of the Mitten State. But what if you aren’t familiar with city names in my home state? Would “Hi, I’m from Lansing,” be enough information for you? Of course not; you’d have to inquire about where Lansing is to get the full story. It’s a simple follow-up question since I’m right there to ask.
But what if I was only available to you online and told you I was from Lansing? What if you had to search my web site for clues about where Lansing is? I’m betting you’d end up frustrated and maybe even think less of me because I made a difficult task out of something that should be simple. That is, unfortunately, what too many local newspapers are doing online.
The newspaper industry is struggling with how to survive this new age of global interaction where people want their news online, they want it now and they want it for free. I’m not going to profess I have the answers on how to make everything better for my former industry. But I can suggest that one thing they need to remember is that there is no such thing as “local” on the Internet. We need to know where your paper is located. We need to know the city and the state. Even better would be a small map showing us where in the state you’re located. And this information should be at the top of the page, prominently displayed. Without it, we can’t put your news stories in the proper context.
Newspaper web sites tend to be a nightmare of information overload to begin with. There are advertisements that blink, pop up and roll over the content I’m after, and the layout often looks like the only design training the person in charge has is from reading “Web Site Design for Dummies.” Please don’t make me wade through all that nonsense just to play 20 Questions on my hunt for what state your city is in.
Let’s use one of my local papers, the Lansing State Journal, as an example. There is a small line of grayed-out, blurry text as part of their masthead that says “Michigan Press Association” above a line that tells us it’s an award-winning web site. (Really? Hmm, another blog post idea here!) Other than that clue, and having to dig through the stories and ads for more clues, you wouldn’t know the Lansing State Journal is from Lansing, Michigan, as opposed to the cities of Lansing found in Illinois, Kansas, New York, Iowa or North Carolina.
The Niles Star is another example from Michigan, although it could be from Illinois, Ohio, or New York. Then you have The Daily News, which is from Dowagiac, Michigan. That little tidbit is available to you if you look at the URL and see it says “dowagiacnews.” Of course, that only gives you a city and not a state. And the web site itself doesn’t tell you what city it’s from — I guess it’s “The Daily News of the World?”
Newspapers need to grab the global online community in a giant bear hug and never let go. Instead, they seem intent on finding new ways to prove to us they are stuck in the age of ink and paper, driving away a world full of potential readers whose first question is generally going to be, “Hi, where are you from?”